Manno, a 4-year old chimpanzee from Africa has been liberated from a life of exploitation in Iraq and relocated to the Sweetwaters Chimpazee Sancurary in Kenya, a home for chimpanzees in need.
Manno was born in a zoo in the Syrian capital, Damascus, and torn from his mother at a young age. Until 29 November, he sat in a cage in northern Iraq, close to territory occupied by the Islamic State. The only time he was allowed out of his cage is when he was dressed up in clothes and used as a photo prop for paying zoo visitors.
The Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya and its advocacy project PEGAS fought for Manno’s release for over a year, the conservancy said in a press release.
Manno’s history starts in 2013, when he was smuggled out of war-torn Syria into northern Iraq. He was bought for $15,000 by a small private zoo close to Erbil, and quickly became the main attraction.
The zoo owner did not follow the proper procedures for importing a CITES Appendix I animal, which rendered Manno’s import illegal, according to Ol Pejeta. CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species), has placed great apes under the most protective category, Appendix I, which means that no commercial trade is allowed.
Since 2013, visitors have been paying to have photos taken with the young chimpanzee, play with him and give him sugary sweets and sodas. The alien diet gave Manno constant diarrhoea, but allowing visitors to feed him is a money earner.
Manno’s first glimmer of hope arrived in Christmas of 2014 in the form of Canadian volunteer Spencer Sekyer. Spencer came to Erbil to work at the zoo and fell in love with Manno. He vowed to try and help him.
In 2015, Jane Goodall, the renowned great ape conservationist, went to speak near Spencer’s hometown of Edmonton, Alberta. He managed to get a quiet moment with her afterwards, and spoke of Manno’s plight. Jane promised to help, and got in touch with Ol Pejeta Conservancy.
Freeing a chimpanzee from a private zoo in northern Iraq with Islamic State fighting just 40 kilometers away wasn’t easy. Working closely with Spencer, PEGAS started reaching out to regional contacts who could help.
Time after time they were met with bureaucratic roadblocks, but they were relentless. Eventually, they got hold of the Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government, where Duhok zoo is located. He sympathised with Manno, and issued a decree that Manno should be freed, and relocated to Sweetwaters Sanctuary.
Animals Lebanon, an animal welfare organization based in Beirut, arranged the relocation in collaboration with Ol Pejeta’s Project to End Great Ape Slavery. Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary, located in the shadow of Mt. Kenya, is part of the scenic Ol Pejeta Conservancy, an award-winning home to thousands of wild animals, including the last three northern white rhinos on Earth.